When Great British Racing got in touch to as us to help promote their Under 18s Race Free campaign, I won’t lie to you, it took me a while to agree. I had a huge number of reservations about not only going to the races, something I have never done before, and yet, as with everything in life, I think it’s important to see things for yourself and, having read a little more about the planned event, I was interested to find out whether our Summer Family Day would be something our family would enjoy.
As part of Great British Racing’s Under 18’s Race Free initiative, there are 60 racecourses throughout the UK where under 18’s are admitted free of charge to the vast majority of fixtures throughout the year, when accompanied by a full paying adult. Over the Summer holidays you can find more than 200 fixtures up and down the country, including 50 special family days with additional activities for families, and our nearest venue was right here at Haydock.
Haydock Park, located in the North West, promised a line up of inflatables, face painting, a fake beach, games and activities, as well as the chance to explore behind the scenes. On arrival we could see that there was plenty on offer to keep the children entertained.
We had literally only been at Haydock for two minutes when Megan was randomly attacked by a wasp and stung on the end of her nose which did not go down well. Although it was unfortunate, and it must have really hurt bless her, the staff could not have been more helpful and we were personally escorted to the First Aid team who dealt with it promptly and professionally. I was actually impressed by every single member of staff we came into contact with during our day and when you’re enjoying a day out with your family it is so reassuring to know there’s help there should you need it.
We spent the first hour just enjoying the giant inflatables all of which were free of charge. With three young children who always want a go on everything, it can really add up and the children’s little faces when we said they could go on anything liked, as many times as they liked, were a picture.
Of course, a huge part of the day was learning more about horse racing and taking part in the Kid’s Takeover Day, brought to Haydock Park by Great British Racing. The children were offered the opportunity to try their hands at a number of key Raceday roles facilitated by Racing to School, an education charity which delivers free outdoor learning activities for young people at racecourses, studs and trainers’ yards across the country.
We were led in a very small group around the stables, the weighing rooms, and told about what happens behind the scenes before each race. It was interesting to listen to someone who was clearly very passionate about horse racing and learn a more factual account of horse racing as opposed to that which I have heard about through friends or the media.
The children are obsessed with horses and so it was great to see some of them close up before we saw them running in the races later in the day. There’s no denying they are utterly beautiful and the girls especially loved the different braids and designs in their manes and tails.
We then got the chance to head on over to the race course before the races started. The thing that really struck me was just how soft and spongy the grass was but we were told this is necessary not to place too much strain on the horses joints as they run.
I was particularly interested to learn more about the safety side of things when it comes to horse racing and was impressed that the same amount of care is taken over both the jockeys and the horses. With each race a regular ambulance, and a horse ambulance, follow the horses around the track with a full team of paramedics and vets on site.
There is also a runway at Haydock Park which is used both privately and in case of emergencies. We saw one of the planes take off later in the day and the children loved seeing it so close up!
The children taking part in the Kid’s Takeover Day were then invited to race on the track themselves which was a really fun experience and something we are unlikely to get the opportunity to do again any time soon!
With it almost time for the first race we just had time to learn a little more about the Sampling Unit, a place where the horses go post-race should they perform better or worse than expected to check for any performance enhancing drugs or health issue which may need treating.
Over at the paddock we saw several television crews and commentators and learned that every race at Haydock is broadcast worldwide on various racing channels. I had no idea that horse racing was such a popular sport to watch, nor that it was televised other than the likes of the Grand National!
The lady from the Great British Racing was really helpful in answering all of our questions and particularly changing my perception of why people visit the races full stop. In my particular social circle the races have very much been about drinking and gambling and I wrong assumed that was the case for the majority. It turns out that a huge portion of people who visit the races are very much invested in their love of horses and I found it really interesting to hear more about this side of racing.
At one point we were invited into the paddock and interviewed by the presenter which was certainly an experience! The children were feeling a little camera shy so I was totally down to me to share more about our day!
As the horses prepared for the race we enjoyed looking around Haydock Park and admiring the surroundings. The gardens here are utterly beautiful with the most stunning flower beds and greenery. It was nothing like I had imagined it to be and rather than seeing crowds of drinkers and hordes of gamblers, it was actually a really laid back, relaxing, and enjoyable venue.
It also has the best photography walls which the girls took full advantage of. Obviously every race course is very different and having never been to others I can’t compare, but I would imagine that Haydock Park is up here as one of the most beautiful!
There are lots of different places to eat, suiting all budgets, and whilst we ate in the restaurant, courtesy of the park, there are lots of little stalls where you can buy snacks, larger meals, drinks and ice creams.
After watching a couple of the races we made our way back over to the children’s activity area where the DJ had all kinds of fun games and competitions on the go for the kids. From hula hooping to dance contests, the children loved joining in and it was just really good family fun.
The only negative I could say about the children’s activities was the face painting, with us standing in line for over an hour to have the children’s faces painting. Perhaps a ticket system would work well so that we could have enjoyed the inflatables or played on the beach while we waited rather than wasting an hour of our day stood in the queue.
That said, the children loved having their faces painted and the two ladies who ran the stall were working really hard to get through all of the children. Again this was free of charge too which was a real bonus.
Despite my reservations about taking my family to the races I have to be totally honest and say that I came away feeling very differently. The children had an amazing day and loved all of the fun activities and games and Haydock Park was a beautiful surrounding to spend some quality family time together.
For those interested in the family events the next is on Monday 19th August at Bangor-on-Dee from 4.30pm – 8.10pm. You can exciting line up of racing alongside a wealth of free family fun activities, including: face-painting, crafts, crazy golf, climbing wall, and inflatable play zones. For more information about Great British Racing and their events visit http://www.under18sracefree.com.
** We were invited to Haydock Park as a collaborative post with Great British Racing Under 18’s Race Free. We were gifted tickets and compensated for our time. **